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April 3, 2018
THE MODERATOR: Let's just welcome Phil Mickelson, the three‑time Masters champion. Phil, thanks for being here with us. I assume you won't be taking any abuse here, but you've had some memorable moments this year, especially your time in Mexico. Do you want to just talk about what you've been doing to prepare for this week.
PHIL MICKELSON: It's been a fun start to the year. It's been a lot of fun getting back in the winners circle in Mexico. More than that, it's been fun getting in contention, having opportunities to win and competing at the highest level week‑in and week‑out.
I think it was important for me to get that first win. I had talked about it, as we head into the Masters, to get that first win out of the way since it had been a while since I had won and to relive the feeling and the pressure of coming down the stretch and be able to not have to deal with that for the first time here at Augusta but also have some success.
So winning was a big thing for me, especially heading into this week.
THE MODERATOR: This is your 23rd Masters. What is it about the Masters and this tournament that gets you all excited?
PHIL MICKELSON: It's the event that every kid dreams of, and this place has given every child who loves the game of golf to dream of and to aspire to be a part of. The Drive, Chip & Putt gives these kids a young taste of how special this place is and the premises, and it's just‑‑ to be able to compete here and to win is fulfilling those childhood dreams.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. Questions?
Q. So just another Tuesday. I'm wondering, who set up that practice round today?
PHIL MICKELSON: We just ran into each other yesterday, and I have kind of changed my practice schedule, it's taken me a while longer to catch on to what Tiger's been doing, which is playing nine holes each day. And I find that it allows me to not get as tired after a practice rounds and also easier to recover and I'm fresher when I do play and compete.
I also am able to hit a lot more shots on those nine holes that I'm playing only. So as my practice schedule has changed, it worked out well. Tiger's been doing it for 10 years, I just hadn't really caught on and taken notice. But it's the right way to do it.
Q. Can I follow‑up, please. So obviously there seems to be a lot of fascination about this. Does that surprise you that everybody seems fascinated about this pairing? Seemed unusual to us.
PHIL MICKELSON: I think that nobody respects and appreciates what he's done for the game more because nobody's benefited from what he's done for the game of golf more than I have. I've always had that appreciation and respect for him. To see him back out playing is incredible. We all feel that. I texted him a while ago when he was playing at Valspar that it felt like it was a different time continuum because I found myself pulling so hard for him. It was unusual. And I find that I want him to play well, and I'm excited to see him play so well. And he is playing well.
Q. I'm wondering if you see this as‑‑ I've heard some people calling it the most anticipated Masters maybe ever. From your shoes, how do you respond to that?
PHIL MICKELSON: I agree.
Q. In detail a little?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think there's a lot of players, a lot of the top quality players, young and old, are playing some of their best golf, and I think that's going to lead to one of the most exciting Masters in years.
Q. Since your time‑‑ since the victory in Mexico and you had a little time to look at it, what do you really think pushed you across the line there? And secondly, you talk about the boost you get winning before you come in here, you're always inspired here, what's the tangible there that winning does for you?
PHIL MICKELSON: It validates your ability to perform under pressure. So I've already now performed and executed shots at the highest level under pressure, and doing it at the Masters that final nine is the most difficult time to do it. So having the confidence that I've already done it at such a recent moment has been a huge thing. I've said that for every year that I've come here. Every year that I've won here, I had won before. And I think it's an important part of being successful here.
At Mexico, I had been close the three weeks prior, I started a few too many shots back on Sunday, four, five shots back, and the difference in Mexico was I started two back. So the first two days are going to be every bit as important for me as the last two, getting in contention and not having to make up too much ground. So I'll have to come out Thursday, Friday sharp, focused and not‑‑ and execute each shot well from the start, because it's going to be very difficult to make up ground over this many great players playing this well.
Q. You made a comment earlier this year that I would like you to elaborate a bit on. You said you would like to be the first one to win the par‑3 contest and then the Tournament proper. Do you not believe in the jinx?
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't. However, because of the rain and the‑‑ or the potential for weather and so forth, I'm not sure I'll make it tomorrow to compete, but I would love to win that par‑3 tournament and go on to try to compete and be the first person to win them both. But I'm not sure that I'll have a chance to give myself the best opportunity to compete and be in contention in the Masters. I'm not sure that's going to be part of the schedule, given the potential for weather.
Q. Is it true that you hadn't played a practice round with Tiger since 20 years ago at the Nissan Open, before that, and that's a story that's been told once or twice, I guess, about how you took care of him that day. I'm just curious if that's the case, and do you remember anything about that or anything you can share about that?
PHIL MICKELSON: I know we played a lot in the team events, we have played a lot of practice rounds. I don't know the last time we played a practice round before a tournament. I don't think it was 20 years ago, but I can't remember another time.
And this time we partnered up and had some fun. Watching him eagle 13 and 15, I made a few birdies in there, we had a five‑hole stretch, we were 7‑under, that was some fun play. I thought we did a good job partnering up.
Q. Tiger was just in here before you, and he did concede that your relationship has changed over the years, you are more friendly now than you were in the past. Do you feel that? And if so, is it more a change in him, is it a change in both of you, what do you think has accounted for it?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think the ‑‑ we have always had a respect and an appreciation for each other, but I believe coming together to work together for a common goal of having success in the Ryder Cup has brought us closer together, and it started about two and a half, three years ago. I feel as being kind of the turning point as we were getting ready for Hazeltine and preparing for that, coming up with game plan, we were talking almost on a daily basis, and I thought that that was kind of the impetus where we really started to work well together. And there's nothing that brings you closer than working together on a common goal like that.
Q. Could I follow up. His struggles, injuries, whatever, these last few years, did that change anything for you maybe reaching out to him or anything like that? Would you have done that before?
PHIL MICKELSON: Like I said, I've had a respect and appreciation for him for what he's done for the game, and I've benefited more than anybody else. So when he was going through a tough time, I wanted to do whatever I could to help out, because oftentimes that's when people aren't there. And I wanted to do whatever I could during a tough time, not just the good, because I've reaped the rewards during the good times and I'm very appreciative of what he's done for me, my family, the game of golf.
I've seen it before he came along. I had five years on TOUR when‑‑ before he came along, and I remember winning the Tucson Open in 1991, and the entire purse was a million dollars and I used to wonder if we would ever have a first place check of a million dollars. He comes along and the rate of growth was exponential. We were playing for now almost two million dollars. And we have been playing for a million every week. I didn't know that would happen in my career, and he's made that happen.
Not to mention the increased exposure, bringing golf to the front page, the television ratings, the opportunities off the golf course, all of these things he has exponentially grown the game of golf. And I'm very appreciative of that and I've reaped the rewards through the good times, and I want to do whatever I can in tough times, too.
Q. Now that you know a bit more about Shubhankar Sharma, can I ask you about him as a golfer and him getting a special invitation to come and play over the Masters‑‑ over here in the Masters? What do you think of that?
PHIL MICKELSON: Given the way he played in Mexico and his talent level, I'm excited that he has the opportunity to play here and compete at the Masters. It will create more awareness in his home country of India for the game of golf. I think the growth potential in that country is enormous, and what he's doing to help grow that game could very well be similar to what Tiger has done to grow the game of golf in the UnitedStates and world.
Q. There's been a lot of talk, obviously, because this year you got three guys who have a chance to complete a career slam and three different Majors this year. Rory and Jordan being younger have gotten a lot of the talk, and you've almost been dismissed by some people because of getting older. Do you think this year and the way you have played and winning in Mexico and the quality of your golf every week has sort of changed the discussion for you going into this Major season, especially the U.S. Open too?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think that these first two Majors especially are going to be great opportunities for me because I've not only been playing well but I'm on courses that I'm familiar with and have had some great success in the past. So that leads to managing the game, managing the golf course, managing my game, hopefully effectively, to shoot a low score.
But I also want to go under the radar, would prefer to go under the radar too. It's a lot easier that way. But when I go under the radar, it usually is because of poor play, and that sucks. So there's kind of a give and take. The fact that I've been playing well leads to some excitement on my half, on my part for this week and down the road at Shinnecock.
Q. Quick follow‑up. Can you just talk about the atmosphere that was out there on the Tuesday morning at Augusta with the four of you playing today?
PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, it seemed like there were a lot of people out there. They seemed pretty excited, and I thought that the two eagles Tiger put on them at 13 and 15 led to some pretty nice roars.
Q. What goes through your head when you think about Jack's victory here in '86 and 46 years old and now the fact that you have a chance to win the Masters at age 47 and break that record?
PHIL MICKELSON: It is hard for me to believe given that I have watched that Masters so many times over the years that I remember watching it when I was in high school and how hard I pulled for him and how much I loved that Masters. And the other participants in that, too, from Norman to Seve to Kite, all these players that had great opportunities there on Sunday, what an exciting Masters that was.
And now to think that I'm this age, the time just flies by, it goes by so quick, I still feel or I can still remember the feelings as a high school player of dreaming of participating in this tournament, dreaming of winning this tournament. And for me to sit here now as a past champion, it really means a lot to me.
Q. After the Open in 2013, between then and Mexico you spent a lot of time talking about it's close, I think I can win, I believe I can win, in hindsight over that nearly five years, was there a low point? Were there doubts, or did that never really factor into your thinking?
PHIL MICKELSON: There were some difficult times and there were some challenges, but I always believed I would overcome them. I remember I go back to this point on my putting green four years ago or so with Dave Pelz and thinking that I really need to become a consistent great putter to be able to achieve what I want to achieve still in the game. And I was struggling then. We dissected just about every aspect of it from technique to green reading to lag drills, how to practice, what to practice, all the variables.
Now I've been able to kind of put it together and implement it to where I'm either one or two in some of‑‑ in all the statistical categories of putting that matter. So I'm very excited about what that means because week‑in and week‑out I've been putting great, with an occasional off week, whereas before I would putt average week‑in and week‑out with an occasional great week.
And second thing is that I knew that once I achieved that level and I finally did break through and win, I'm going to peel off quite a few more. So I've just had the first one, and it's time to start peeling off a few more.
Q. You haven't really been around Tiger playing in a while until today. Obviously you referenced 2013 and 2015. And can you be specific about what you saw in his game and are you surprised how quickly it's come back to him given his physical circumstance in the last few years?
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't know enough about the medical elements to say I'm surprised or not, but I know that he had a big challenge, but the game for him looks easy. He's got the shot making and he's already hit all these great shots for so many years that I would think it would be easier to get it back than to find it for the first time.
So it's not that surprising to me. And in that regard, what's surprising is his speed because I thought with the injuries his speed might not be as great. But some things never change and I can't keep it up with him.
Q. What did he say to you when you holed that practice flop shot on 15?
PHIL MICKELSON: We were‑‑ I was just‑‑ we were talking about difficulty of the shot from behind the green to certain pins and we were talking about the middle pin, middle back pin, how tough that is from over the green. And it is tough, but I hit a flop up there fairly close, and then I said, but over here to this right pin it's pretty easy, and I just kind of flopped one up and it went in, and he just kind of laughed at me. It's a much easier shot ‑‑ look, I've dissected kind of all the little variables of this golf course, and it does play significantly different for a left‑handed player or right‑handed player.
I'll give you an example. On No. 10, that right bunker to that top right pin. It is such an easy bunker shot for a right‑handed player because when they open the face, the cut spin works into the green right‑to‑left, helps to stop the ball. But when I hit that shot and I open the face, my cut spin is spinning with the slope and I can't get it within 12 or 15 feet. And those little nuances change the way the short‑game shots around the greens play.
So, for instance, that pin on 15, when I'm over the green and I'm hitting to that back left pin, my cut spin works back into the slope, very easy shot. It's just‑‑ I'll get that up‑and‑down 10 out of 10 times. But a right‑handed player has a different challenge because his cut spin is working down the slope and it's a lot harder to get it close and it has to be a much more precise shot. So we were just talking about the little nuances of the shots around the greens like that.
Q. And if I could ask a quick follow, when he was in here he was asked about your attire today, and he said all that's missing is the tie. Your response, please?
PHIL MICKELSON: I have a tie. And I'll wear it tonight.
Q. You said you wanted to fly under the radar, but you stuck out with what you wore today. So could you explain a little?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, thank you. Both you and I, Karen, like to stand out a little bit, don't we?
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't know what else to say. I just thought I would give it a try. It's a stretchy fabric, it performs well, and I think it looks good, so...
Q. You're known for your embracing tradition and etiquette and decorum and all of that. How nice is the atmosphere here and welcoming to players, and is it kind of a nice experience? Because I know an on TOUR sometimes it can be different than that.
PHIL MICKELSON: I love everything about this place, from the patrons to the members to how it's run and all the little idiosyncrasies of this club that are different that can be difficult or challenging at times, I've come to kind of love and appreciate. All the little nuances, from seeing the same familiar faces out in the gallery or many of the familiar faces and the appreciation they have for certain shots. They treat Masters, past champions so well that to be a part of that history and come here and be treated so well, and it just means a lot. It just makes it a very special experience every time I'm here.
Q. As a follow‑up, is it kind of comfortable knowing that everyone's left their cell phones in their car or whatever and there's nothing like that to worry about?
PHIL MICKELSON: You know, we have really had a pretty good run on TOUR in that most everybody has it on silent. We don't care if you take pictures or video or whatever, but we just don't want it making noises at the top of our swing. So the fact that most all of our fans are cognizant of that and are able to put it on silent, it has been a lot better on TOUR than I ever thought it was going to be. And I think that the‑‑ I guess the education of the spectators has just gotten a lot better. So I don't even worry about that on TOUR anymore.
Q. When Jack won in '86, it was considered‑‑ pick your adjective, I guess, historic, against odds, something that they thought they never would see. Knowing the state of your game right now, would you place a victory here this year in that same kind of framework?
PHIL MICKELSON: No, no. Because the longevity of careers are different. This is another effect that Tiger had on the game of golf as far as being aware of fitness. And more specifically golf fitness now. It has allowed me to elongate my career because of that. And go through it with knock on wood, injury free.
Q. I hear you saying that you're appreciative of the benefits of the Tiger Woods era. Fred Couples out there did say maybe without a Tiger Woods, Phil wins 10 or 12 Majors. I wonder if you had to come through a certain frustration or come to terms with a frustration in any of that?
PHIL MICKELSON: It's very possible that that's the case, and it's also possible that he brought out the best in me and forced me to work harder and focus to ultimately achieve the success that I've had. And it's hard to determine, looking back, which one it is.
But I know that I've appreciated the challenge of playing and competing against him, and I also appreciate the level of greatness that he's achieved in his career, and I've also enjoyed the chance to play and compete with him and against him. And it has been tough dealing with as much failure against him as I've had, but I also enjoy the challenge.
Q. You've always been known for your strong connection with the fans. Part of the narrative surrounding Tiger's comeback is that he's returned a somewhat kinder, gentler figure and presence as it relates to them. I'm curious if you think that assessment is accurate. And if so, what do you think has inspired that change in his approach?
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't know, I don't know how to answer that, but I do find him very enjoyable to be around. And we had a great time today playing together, and I hope that we have a chance to do it more.
Q. What do you specifically think has changed about him in your presence?
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't know what to say specifically, I just know that he's very easy to be around and I enjoy our time together. We laugh, we tell stories, we're both self‑deprecating, and yet we can both throw in a little jab here and there. And we just have fun together.
Q. To frame it a different way, you allude to the respect, and Tiger's had respect from everybody for a long time now. He does seem‑‑ I don't know if likeable is the right word, but has maybe a better relationships with a lot more players than previously. Do you think‑‑ if that's the case, do you think it's age or do you think it may be the fact that he's been through some stuff, been gone for a couple years?
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't know the reasoning, but I think your assertion that he has a lot of great relationships with a lot of players, I think that's accurate, and I think it's really with the guys that he has been on the team with. Because, again, when you are the vice captain or you're a part of a team that's coming together to try and achieve a common goal, you develop a certain emotional unity and closeness, and experiencing those emotions and that, trying to accomplish a goal two years ago at Hazeltine is something that brought us all closer, and his relationships with the guys on the team are extremely close.
Q. Even at Liberty National last year at the Presidents Cup, do you‑‑ did you get a sense him being there, that that was as valuable to him as anything golf‑wise?
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't know. I know that he really enjoyed being a part of the teams, and I thought that his role was understated, because he brought so much to the table on strategy, partnerships, parings, how to attack.
I thought that he looked at it from so many different angles that he really brought a lot to our team being successful, and it was also great for us to have an opportunity to see how well thought through his mind works on all variables.
Q. Jordan Spieth hasn't played as well as he'd like all this year but had a great week in Houston last week. Do you think that's enough to get his game going when he's struggled by his standards this year?
PHIL MICKELSON: I will never underestimate him. He's an extremely rare talent and has so much game that‑‑ plus he's had such success here at an early age, an early time, I would just‑‑ I would never underestimate his chances.
Q. How did y'all determine who got to tee off first this morning? I heard some theories as to how that transpired. And were there any strokes given?
PHIL MICKELSON: Four, three, one, zero. So we just went right in order. He has four jackets, I have three jackets, Fred, then Thomas. It's a respect thing.
Q. When you look at how well your power has maintained through the years and the swing speed you still have, how much of that comes from the sort of golf fitness stuff you alluded to earlier, and how much of that is about the type of swing that you have?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think it's a little bit of both, just like you said, and I think it's also a lot of work too. It's a lot more work than I probably lead on, but to maintain that type of baseline for speed requires a lot of work in the gym, it also requires a lot of work to support the muscles so that‑‑ around the spine, knee, shoulders so that they don't get hurt.
And so that's why Sean Cochran has had me do a lot of exercises that strengthen the stabilizing muscles of those areas and allowed me to swing faster without worrying about injury or so forth.
So as I've gotten older though, I had to work harder and harder with overload, underload, swinging heavy clubs, swinging light clubs, trying to retrain my speed baseline to maintain where it's at. And I've actually increased a little bit from the last few years. But I'm probably the same as I‑‑ if I look at the overall distance, swing speed, so forth, I'm probably about the same where I was 10, 15 years ago. But I had declined or regressed for a few years, and I kind of sprung back this year.
Q. I think you can probably tell where a lot of headlines are going, this burgeoning bromance or this new friendship. Does that feel accurate to you?
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't know if I would phrase it the way you did. But I don't want to hold you back, so...
Q. How would you phrase it?
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't write. I'm not a writer. I mean, this is‑‑ that's your job. You do your thing and you do it well, I'll play, and we'll just stick to our roles. That's probably best. I've seen some of you play, and that's best I think.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you all very much. Thank you, Phil, and good luck this week.
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